Friday, November 13, 2015

Journey Toward Health and Wellness

Once upon a time, I had been under the impression that if I was eating a whole food vegan diet, I could eat pretty much whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and be healthy. I exercised, though quite sporadically, and while I knew that I should be moving more, I figured I was still probably pretty healthy based on my diet alone.

I was wrong. 

One year ago, I went in for my annual physical, and found that in spite of my whole food vegan diet, I was the heaviest I'd ever been in my life. I spent a pretty good portion of my adult life in the underweight to low average range, but as I approached middle age, my weight started creeping up. Also, my cholesterol up to 206 and my triglycerides to 231! As a vegan! I couldn't imagine how this could be, with my relatively healthy lifestyle, but apparently genetics play a big role in this stuff, and genetics were not working in my favor. 

I had been promising myself for years that I would start working out more regularly and lose some weight. But, when it became more about my health than vanity, I finally began to make some real changes. I started making exercise a priority in my life. That has been a real challenge at times, as there always seems to be something "more important" that needs to be done. But a good friend of mine gave me some advice... she said to view exercise the same way you view brushing your teeth. It's not optional. It's something you must do as basic care for yourself. I began with walking more, and eventually stepped up my routine by adding weight training. I made the commitment to work out at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, no matter what else is going on. 

I also started paying more attention to the calories I was consuming, and boy, was that a shock. Although everything I was eating was "healthy" I was eating a lot of really calorie-dense foods (nuts, seeds, avocados, etc) which were making my daily caloric intake higher than it needed to be. I began to practice some conscientious portion control, and experimented with Intermittent Fasting. There is a lot of information out there about IF, and lots of different ways to approach it. IF proponents say fasting for a part of each day or each week gives your digestive system a break, and can help with insulin resistance and inflammation. I wasn't sure this method would work for me, as I am someone who doesn't fast well... so I did a very modified approach, which involved not eating after 6 pm (which I almost never do anyway) and then just delaying my morning meal. This works out to 16-18 hours of fasting (a good chunk of which is sleep time) and 6-8 hours of eating normally.  During the waking fasting hours, I do drink lots of water with lemon, herbal tea and I do have my morning coffee. And, if I feel really hungry, I do eat something. The best thing about IF for me is that it's given me an increased awareness of my body's hunger cues. I no longer eat because it's time to eat, but instead when I feel genuinely hungry. This awareness has been life-changing for me. 

When I went back for my physical this year, I finally saw the results of all this effort. My weight is down nearly 15 pounds, I've lost 3 inches off my waist, my cholesterol has dropped from 206 to 155, and my triglycerides have gone from 231 to 88! I feel strong and healthy. Life is good.

The biggest lesson I've learned through all this is that there are no "quick fixes." The Internet is full of promises of "Get great abs in two weeks!" "Lose weight fast!"and the like, but in real life, getting healthy and fit is a process. It won't happen overnight. But in this world of instant gratification, it's easy to get discouraged when we don't see results right away. In my case, it took several months before I started to see any real changes. But the results over the course of nearly a year have been dramatic, and well worth the effort. I'm grateful for this wake-up call, and grateful that I've had the chance to turn my health around. I still have lots of room for improvement, but it's good to be on the right track. I'm excited to continue on this journey of health and wellness, and look forward to what the future holds.

BEFORE: 2014
146 lbs
Waist: 32 in
Cholesterol: 206
Triglycerides: 231

(not "after" because I'm still working!)
131 lbs
Waist: 29 in
Cholesterol: 155
Triglycerides: 88

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